NAIROBI, Kenya — U.S. first lady Jill Biden said Friday that she feels a kinship with Africans during her sixth visit to the continent, telling The Associated Press in an exclusive interview that she wants to support nations fighting for democracy - “just like I feel we’re doing in the United States.”
“We cannot take things for granted, because it’s such a precious system of government,” she said. “We can’t be complacent. We have to keep fighting for it.”
The first lady opened her trip earlier this week in Namibia, a young democracy, where on Friday she delivered a rousing speech to more than 1,000 students. She told them the democracy their parents and grandparents fought for is now theirs to defend and protect.
In the interview, Biden said that when first lady Monica Geingos invited her to visit, “I thought there’s no better place to go than to go to Namibia” to “encourage the youth to get involved, stay involved, fight for their democracy, just like I feel we’re doing in the United States.”
Africa’s 54 countries are a mix of sometimes fragile democracies in places like Nigeria, which has an election this weekend; and more troubled nations like Burkina Faso, Guinea, Mali, Chad and Sudan that have seen coups in recent years; or Uganda, Gabon, the Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea and Cameroon, where presidents have been clinging to power for decades. Namibia gained its independence from South Africa in 1990.
In her speech, Biden said women’s and girls voices need to be more prominent in the debate.
PHOTOS: Jill Biden voices kinship with Africans' fight for democracy
“As the first generation to be born into a free Namibia, the legacy that your parents and grandparents created is now yours - yours to defend and protect,” Biden told a largely student audience at Namibia University of Science and Technology.
“Yours to grow. And as we look forward, we must remember that the fight for democracy has no end.”
Biden later Friday moved on to Kenya, the second and final stop on her trip.
She is using the trip to focus on empowering women and girls as well as to highlight a devastating drought across the Horn of Africa.
“We must build on the foundation of democracy by lifting up those voices that have gone unheard, particularly women and girls, people living on the margins of society, or those vulnerable to abuse,” Biden told the audience of more than 1,000 students from different schools seated around her in a campus courtyard.
Biden, who has worked with young people throughout her 30-year-long teaching career, said the students must exercise their rights to disagree and to dissent, to speak up when they see injustice and support leaders who listen to their concerns.
The first lady noted that, in the United States, “we are still defending and strengthening our democracy, almost 250 years after our founding.”
“Democracy isn’t easy. It takes work,” she said during the rousing, rally-style speech. “But it’s worth it, because democracy delivers.”
Afterward, she worked her way around the courtyard in a way that she rarely does, shaking hands and taking selfies with scores of excited students.
At one point, the students cheered as she danced to a drum-heavy African beat.
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